This weekend’s senior dance majors’ concert was a stunning showcase of student choreography and performance. Eight women will graduate this spring as dance majors, and for some of them, this concert marked the last time their work will appear on a Connecticut College stage during their undergraduate careers.
The concert is titled Woven, and the thick, orange yarn featured on the program, on posters advertising the event, and decorating the lower lobby of Palmer has become a symbol of the show and of the senior dance majors collectively. Like squares of a quilt, or sleeves of a sweater, each piece is a unique and necessary piece of a comprehensive whole. These pieces have little to do with one another in form, style, lighting, and costuming, but everything to do with each other in the sense of a collective experience – the completion of a major in dance.
The show was divided into two programs, A and B, which I attended on Thursday and Friday night, respectively. Programs A and B were also performed on Saturday as an evening show and a matinee – a dance department double feature.
Both programs interspersed works choreographed by guest artists and performed by students among student works, choreographed by a graduating senior and performed by students in the department. In both cases, the show began with Flutter, choreographed by guest artist and faculty member Lisa Race. Following intermission was Homebody/Brick House, choreographed by dancer and video artist Rachel Boggia in collaboration with the dancers in the piece, and at the end of both A and B was SKY LIGHT, a 1982 work by esteemed guest artist Laura Dean, brought to Connecticut College through the National Endowment for the Arts Dance American Masterpieces Grant.
The first student to follow Flutter in Program A was choreographed by Alex Kuhns and titled A Swell Romance. Set to a number of jazz standards, the ten female dancers wear brightly colored skirts and mug coyly for the audience. The choreographer self-consciously skirts (if you will) around the nostalgia suggested by the dancers’ costumes, choosing instead solo dance phrases during songs like “The Man I Love,” and female pairings in “Cheek to Cheek” which position two dancers quite literally cheek to cheek. The piece is charming and cleanly staged, pleasant to watch even as it quietly questions clichés of courtship and romance.
Second was Sarah Walkowicz’s Cadence, an exciting, visually captivating dance that experiments with tempo and sequence, both in dance and in music. The piece ends in the same place it begins, but in reverse: two dancers positioned diagonally from one another across the stage. It builds quickly from two to thirteen dancers, and at some point in the swirl of bodies that begins to look like time-elapsed photography, it becomes clear that the choreography has begun to rewind. A rearranged version of “Hajnal” by the Venetian Snares accompanied Walkowicz’s choreography, and nothing could have matched the aesthetic of the piece more perfectly – thrilling, dark, dizzying; wonderful.
Liz Young’s Ten Offensive Things was third, and was like nothing I’d expected to see in a dance concert. Following a short introductory scene in which Emma Judkins ’11 is played like a cello by senior Lily Ockwell, the curtain rises on ten female dancers in incredibly offensive dresses, who declare brashly, “We are ten offensive things!” What follows is a series of hilarious pseudo-skits and songs that defy summary, including the most egg-filled rendition of “And I’m Telling You,” leaves the audience in fits while in the same stroke raising serious questions about the nature of performance. “DO YOU LOVE ME, DO YOU CARE?” cries a vaudevillian kickline of egg-covered girls – and they mean it. Do you?
The Exaltation: A March was Emily Cannarella’s contribution, and followed Rachel Boggia’s Homebody/Brick House after the intermission. Her piece featured an opening solo by Lily Ockwell and a cast of seven other female dancers, dressed in simple, rust orange dresses. In choreography reminiscent of figures on a Classical frieze, dancers moved stiffly and gracefully, performing the March of the piece’s title.
The first student piece of Program B was Presentation, choreographed by Colleen Megley. In the opening, a girl in a white dress is presented a pearl necklace by a young boy with a jewelry box. The necklace breaks apart and tiny pearls fall all over the stage. She continues trying to wear the loose pearls on her chest, but they merely scatter on the ground. The piece questions notions of completeness, of what is truly important, and of what can be gained by “letting the pearls drop.”
Vagabound, was second, choreographed by Lily Ockwell. Under drum-heavy, almost discordant music, two bare metal scaffolds on either side of the stage held two groups of dancers, dressed in gray and black and wrapped around the bars of the structure. As the piece moves forward, each group ventures cautiously beyond the metal almost-cages, out into the center of the stage, before quickly retreating en masse. Eventually, they begin to venture further, tracing a zigzagged path across the stage, one after another, morphing through bizarre body shapes like nothing I’d seen before. The curtain begins to fall just as a single dancer begins to move beyond the scaffold structure. Vagabound raises for the viewer questions about society and individuality, and the true difficulty of breaking ranks and setting out alone. To what or to whom are we bound?
In a similarly dark visual mode, Sophie Maguire’s The Less Vanquished looked like a Satanic religious ceremony at first glance. Harshly lit by two diametrically positioned rows of floodlights, the nine dancers in the piece pose severely, and pace seriously across the stage in a tightly-coordinated mass. The would-be priests and priestesses test the bounds of their space, rushing, then crawling toward the bulbs and quickly shying away. One at a time, each of them picks up a floodlight, which are attached to long electrical cords, and moves to form a ring facing the center of the stage, bathing the audience in bright light. The dancers then slowly curl themselves around their individual lamps, blocking all but one small beam from reaching the audience. The piece’s macabre religious overtones lend its interpretation the air of a parable, like Plato’s Cave. If the light represents knowledge, and the priests and priestesses of The Less Vanquished are in some way us, what is our relationship to it knowledge, both collectively and individually?
The final student piece in Woven was What Goes Up, choreographed by Karina Mudd. In the program she dedicates the performance, “in memory of a father who lived for love and physics.” Her creation is a moving arrangement of memories of a lost family member, and everything from the title to the color of the dancers’ costumes seem to have been informed by specific aspects of his life. “Remember a moment you wish you could return to,” a voice tells the audience. “Remember a moment you wish you could forget.” Each of these moments is so personal for the choreographer, for each dancer, and for each audience member. Watching the piece makes the viewer acutely aware of the specificity of memories, and the meaning of a red sweater. “He always said,” the voice continues, “what goes up must come down.”
An entire paper could be written about any one of these pieces – but this is the challenge of a review. As a general rule, dance raises more questions than it offers answers, and Woven is no exception. It began to feel like one of those endless evenings spent with friends, sharing stories and staring into the Abyss. I was struck by the common themes of loss, of path-finding and of why-are-we-here? among the student pieces. Each performance is a map of an experience, in some sense – a snapshot that somehow quietly addresses everything that came before it. Indeed, Woven began to stare back into me.
Congratulations, seniors. You did it. It was fabulous.